There is a real push in many state legislatures to pass resolutions to amend the United States Constitution relative to how Presidents are elected. The idea is that if one believes in one man/one vote then the popular vote should prevail, period. The counter-argument is that it is the perspective that matters with the vote not only the number. What do I mean by this? I mean that our country is very large and very diverse and that the interests of the loggers in the Northwest and the interests of the fisheries in New England and the interests of the farmers in the Midwest are different and we want candidates for the Presidency to understand and take into account all points of view. Just campaigning in populous states and winning by number does not get candidates to all parts of the country listening to all the people.
In 1787, when the Constitution was written, we were only thirteen states huddled on the Atlantic seaboard. The Founders devised a system of governance which, in effect, split sovereignty between the states and the federal government with the idea that states would have plenary power over its citizens and the national government would have limited but exclusive power over certain areas of our national life. To emphasize this division, Senators to Congress were elected by state legislatures so that the interests of each state were fully represented. The House members were directly elected but only for two-year terms. The President was elected by electors chosen in each state through whatever method the states chose and the number of electors for each state was the total number of representatives and senators with a minimum of three electors.
The Founders did not think direct popular voting wise for the following reasons. In 1787, with poor communication and huge distances it would be impossible for the average citizen to know the candidates running and their qualifications for office. Electors would be chosen who did know the candidates and who could make a wise decision. The Founders were also leery of “mob” voting or emotional voting or uninformed voting or bribed voting and so devised a three-prong system for Senators, for House members, and for the Presidency that would hopefully thwart any kind of corruption. Everyone knew George Washington would be the first President so the system did not really kick in until after his second term. It was a bit awkward so it was later modified by the 12th Amendment but it is basically the same system just tweaked a bit.
One of the arguments to get rid of the Electoral College is that what I have described above was fine for 1787 but is not fine for modern times with our instant communication and widespread campaigning. I would argue that it is more important now than ever before and here’s why. Modern political campaigns for the Presidency have become monstrous focus-driven productions of mass brainwashing and theater that would not surprise the Founders at all. The Founders were well aware of the nature of human beings and the tendency of human beings to mob thought and action. Not only had many of them studied history and philosophy, they had watched how the mob violence of the Revolution and Shay’s rebellion after the Revolution, drove normally sane people into a kind of group-think. The Founders, therefore, limited direct voting with its potential for mob action to only the House of Representatives. Intelligent, knowledgeable, informed elders in each state would be unable to be brainwashed into selecting unqualified Senators, it was thought. This of course was changed by the 17th Amendment in 1913, with the effect of transferring more power to the national government and away from the states. Whether the direct election of Senators has produced a better quality of public servant is an open question.
Second, a President of the United States is President of all the people. True, the President usually comes out of a party apparatus but he or she is not to govern solely on that basis. The President needs to listen to the coal miners; to the farm laborers; to the nurse practitioners; to the union workers in closed manufacturing plants; and on and on. Many of these citizens are not in states with large populations so if it is only the popular vote that counts a candidate would never go to listen to the forgotten populations. Each state has special economies and special concerns. A candidate needs to hear what the people of Kansas, or Wyoming, or Arkansas think and feel and care about. These views should be taken into account when public policy is created. Direct popular voting would negate a candidate ever visiting anywhere but California, New York, Florida, and Ohio. The Electoral College makes candidates visit all states and listen to all people.
Third, we need to keep the voting apparatus run by each state so that voting corruption of one state or even more than one state does not completely corrupt the whole system. If we transfer that apparatus to one national voting process all a bad actor would have to do is corrupt that one process and destroy the entire democratic system relative to the election of a President. It is much harder to rig fifty different state voting systems.
It is true that sometimes a candidate for President wins the popular vote but loses the electoral vote. Abraham Lincoln did not win a majority of the votes and did not get a single direct vote in the South. What this tells us is that the candidate in the first instance got a lot of duplicative votes but did not really get a diverse enough vote to become the leader of all the people. Lincoln’s election showed the emergence of the North’s power in the battle that raged for decades after the founding between the northern and the southern states.
Our Constitution is a set of rules. It was well thought through. It was written by very astute and knowledgeable persons and is as fresh and relevant today as when it was written. The Electoral College, with its built-in parity for the smaller or less populated states, is actually much more important today that when first implemented. It should be appreciated and retained.
Copyright©2019 by M.E. Boyd, Esq. “Miss Constitution”